First Posted: 1/15/2009
LUMBERTON - Step aside Super Nanny look-alikes. Move out of the way Mother Hubbard wanna-bes.
They don't compare to Wanda Register, a.k.a. Momma Wanda or Super Nanna.
The Lumberton resident's nurturing hands and kind heart annually keep her in the running for the fictional Mother of the Year crown. The unofficial count includes votes from her two children, two adopted children, two foster children and four grandchildren.
If that doesn't seal the deal, recommendations pour in from Register's husband, daughter-in-law and Robert Nolley, who is the pastor of Good Shepherd Community Church, and a number of young mothers who see her as a role model.
“My mom is my best friend, best mother and best Nanna in the world,” said Register's only daughter, Talissa Fann, whose children - Tate, 12, Walker, 10 and Corey, 8 - visit their grandmother's house in Lumberton at least twice a week.
“She has never failed to be there for us or anyone else. She has such an open heart and willingness to help others. She is what a mother is all about as well as a constant inspiration. I could never do everything she does.”
Register, 54, raised Talissa, 34, and a son, David, 31, and then decided to get back into the mothering business when someone asked her about becoming a foster mother.
“My first response was, 'Oh, no,' but the person who had told me about it insisted that I pray over it,” Register said.
It became an answered prayer in 1986 for foster child Michelle, now 35, and confined to a wheelchair for all of those years.
In 1991, Register adopted 2-year-old son Kelly. A year later, she adopted Kelly's 3-year-old half-sister, Melinda.
In 2000, she took in 12-year-old Timmy, who is also confined to a wheelchair.
Grandchildren from Talissa and her husband, Lathan, came in 1993, 1995 and 1997. David and his wife, Charity, brought in grandson Noah in 2002.
And this gang's turf is frequently Register's home.
“I don't know if I'm so much Super Nanna as I am crazy,” Register said with a laugh. “Certainly, I couldn't do it without the support of my husband.”
She met her husband, Bill, in Key West, Fla., while he was in the Navy and she was in high school. Thirty-five years of marriage have followed. While Bill, who is a traveling mechanic for Bojangles, is in volved in the child rearing, he credits his wife for being the pack leader.
“To us, and I guess I'm a part of the puzzle, it comes natural,” he said. “My wife has a heart of gold. You hear people say they could never love anyone but their own children. Well, that's not Wanda. She loves all children with the same kind of love. She's a remarkable woman who does so much and also counsels many other young mothers. She's the kind of person that is always there to help people.”
Wanda says caregiving is her gift.
“I see it as a ministry,” she said. “With so much talk about a purpose-driven life and a purpose-driven church, I'm comfortable with this as my purpose. It's God's plan for me right now. If you would have asked me about this years ago, I would have never said I'd be happy, content and fulfilled doing this.”
Tuesday nights are often hectic and often noisy in the Register's home, as all of the children and grandchildren gather for games and food. It's as routine as the sun rising.
“I cherish the time we have together. We're so unlike most families in that we have time together. That was the norm decades ago, but not today. So, in that way, we're different.”
Daughter-in-law Charity says many people seek out Register for advice.
“Everyone who has a problem seems to migrate to her,” she said. “She's a good listener and always offers words of wisdom. She loves children and has a way of getting involved. She is always helping her family or anyone who seeks out help.”
Register says she wasn't always a wise mother owl.
“I used to be a very strong disciplinarian, with under-my-thumb authority,” she said. “But now I tend to lay out the rules and the accompanying consequences. I also use bad behavior by one child and use it as a working model for the rest of the group. Children are going to make bad decisions and poor choices. That doesn't mean a parent isn't doing a good job.”
Register seems overly blessed with the ability to show compassion, understanding, nurturing and has found ways to put a sugar coat on tough love.
“It's not a TV perfect setting, an Ossie and Harriet home, but it is one where we talk, laugh at each other, vent our frustrations and let life happen,” she said. “I get the most rewards out of seeing them grow up to be great caring community and family people.”
And sometimes her generosity rubs off - even at the youngest level.
“My Mother's Day present this year was giving one of my grandsons a few dollars to buy their mom a present at school. But they had a poor friend at school who couldn't afford to buy his mother anything, so they shared that money to buy two presents. Seeing that made me proud of them.”
Register says family life isn't always slap-happy.
“Nothing happens 24-7, and if I look out the window I can see three boys on the trampoline when they know one is the limit,” she said, “I yell and they scurry like ants. And we have our challenges. We deal with them as they come up. But you know, this is a fun house. They're all good kids and I'm proud of their accomplishments, what they stand for and their character. And for me, there's just nothing like seeing their smiling faces every day.”
When not attending to the children, Register enjoys gardening, making artificial floral arrangements, painting windows to resemble stained glass, designing wedding cakes and other crafts.
“Sometimes I do a cake for someone I used to take care of years ago when I was baby-sitting,” she said.
While Register occasionally goes out with a friend for lunch, she never considers caring for children a laborious job.
“I'm busy all the time, yet what keeps my drive, purpose and focus going is my spiritual connection,” she said. “It's not so much about me or doing everything right as it is allowing myself to be used. God just wants a willing vessel.”
Bill Register said he's had to put the brakes on his wife's love of children, fearing the Ark would sink if more little ones are added.
“That's just how my wife is, she wants every child to feel loved and wanted,” he said. “We've also had some foster children come and go over the years. We've had to be careful we didn't overload our cupboard.”
Nolley, the family's pastor for 17 years, sees Wanda's care in line with church teachings.
“What she does is about helping someone with a need and as a way of sharing the love and passion of Christ for people,” he said. “Some would not have had that love and care without Wanda and Bill. This is not something everyone can do. It's very difficult. Just after raising your own kids, parents usually take it easy. They started all over again, so it's hard not to admire and feel they are very special people.”